UK public largely supportive of Amazon workers unionising

A poll released on Prime Day by UK-based trade union Unite shows strong public support for Amazon workers should they choose to unionise

The British public is largely supportive of trade union recognition for Amazon workers, with a majority supporting measures that would block the e-commerce giant from securing public sector contracts until the company provides fairer work practices, a poll from Unite has found.

Conducted by Survation, the poll of UK residents found that 73% think Amazon should be legally required to recognise and engage with trade unions representing their employees, while a further 68% support effective trade union recognition as a prerequisite for companies securing public sector contracts.

Of those who voted Conservative in 2019, 64% support union recognition as a prerequisite, a number which went up to 75% among 2019 Labour voters.

On top of union recognition, 77% of those surveyed supported the idea that government should only be able to grant contracts to companies that commit to fair work practices more broadly, including training, fair pay and inclusion, which only 4% of respondents were opposed to.

For workers employed indirectly by Amazon, many of whom would be classified as “gig workers”, 74% of the public believes the firm also has a responsibility to provide them with fair work conditions. Only 16% thought the company did not have a responsibility to these workers.

Just over three quarters (76%) also believe Amazon’s workers should be able to unionise without any interference from the company, something Amazon has a history of.

In April 2020, for example, Amazon attempted to stop its employees from taking part in a virtual panel organised by technology workers concerned about the lack of measures put in place to protect staff against Covid-19, deleting the invitation from thousands of employees’ calendars.

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In the same month, it was discovered that Amazon-owned Whole Foods was using an interactive heat map tool to track where employees could be unionising, which it did by tracking a range of metrics to deduce the likelihood of a union effort being launched.

“Amazon workers have played a crucial part in people’s lives during the pandemic and the public expects fair employment practices and decent terms and conditions,” said Unite executive officer Sharon Graham.

“Amazon attacks all attempts by workers to gain a collective voice of their own but it is now time for a new settlement. The public strongly supports Amazon workers’ right to trade union representation regardless of whether the workers are directly employed or if they work in the gig economy.

“Unite is calling on Jeff Bezos to back a declaration which guarantees that Amazon workers in the UK and Ireland have the freedom to talk with and form a union without fear. Our union is campaigning up and down the country. We are determined to win trade union rights for Amazon workers.”

On 31 March 2021, Unite set up a confidential whistleblowing hotline for Amazon workers in the UK and Ireland, in an effort to encourage workers to expose poor treatment without the threat of reprisals from the company.

When contacted about the hotline, a Unite spokesperson said: “Unite’s Amazon hotline is still open and it's receiving a high volume of traffic. The union is receiving a lot of reports about poor treatment, including concerns over bullying managers and work rates.”

Response from Amazon

In response to the poll and its findings, an Amazon spokesperson said: “We respect our employees’ right to join, form or not to join a labour union or other lawful organisation of their own selection, without fear of reprisal, intimidation or harassment.

“Across Amazon, including in our fulfilment centres, we place enormous value on having daily conversations with each associate and work to make sure direct engagement with our employees is a strong part of our work culture,” they added. “The fact is, we already offer excellent pay, excellent benefits and excellent opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment. The unions know this.”

Growing support for the unionisation of UK-based Amazon workers coincides with a broader shift in attitudes towards the importance of their work, which people generally value more highly as a result of the pandemic.

For example, almost half (46%) said they now value drivers and delivery workers more highly than they did before the pandemic, with 41% feeling the same way with regards to warehouse and Amazon “fulfilment centre” workers.

Overall, 58% said they now view Amazon workers as key workers because of the pandemic.

In April 2021, Q1 financial results for Amazon showed it posted a profit three times larger than it was 12 months ago, from $2.5bn to $8.1bn. The company’s revenue was also up nearly 44% on last year, rising from $75bn in Q1 2020 to $108.5bn now.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos also added more than $70bn to his personal net worth during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which now stands at nearly $185bn.

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